Australian government taps MacGibbon for cybersafety tsar

Parliamentary Secretary for Communications Paul Fletcher has appointed ex-Australian Federal Police agent Alastair MacGibbon as the first e-safety commissioner.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

The Australian government has appointed Alastair MacGibbon as the first e-safety commissioner with the power to fine social networks for failing to remove bullying content.

The commissioner is designed to be a one-stop shop for Australian children or their guardians to lodge complaints about bullying content online. The commissioner will be empowered to investigate and seek to have the content removed if it is deemed to be bullying to a specific Australian child.

The scheme will be broken up into two tiers, with the first tier having a voluntary rapid content-removal process for large social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, that already have content-removal schemes in place as declared by the commissioner.

If the tier 1 social network fails to comply with requests over a 12-month period, then the commissioner may revoke its status down to tier 2.

Tier 2 social networks that fail to comply with legally binding notices to remove content face civil penalties of AU$17,000 per day.

The government invested AU$10 million in the scheme in the Budget last May.

MacGibbon, who spent 15 years in the Australian Federal Police, including working as the director of the Australian High Tech Crime Centre, will take on the role, after stints at Dimension Data, eBay, and the University of Canberra.

"MacGibbon was appointed from a strong field of candidates following a public call for nominations and a thorough selection process," Fletcher said in a statement.

"I look forward to working with industry, child welfare organisations, law-enforcement agencies, and of course Australian children and parents as we work to protect children from the growing problem of cyberbullying," MacGibbon said.

The social networks have argued that they already have appropriate schemes in place to remove content, and Twitter's latest biannual transparency report revealed that the Australian government made a total of only 10 requests for user account information during the second half of 2014.

Fletcher has argued that the commissioner's role will be to target content that may not be a breach of the law.

"Twitter notes in its transparency report that 'governments generally make removal requests for content that may be illegal in their respective jurisdictions', such as 'defamatory statements', or 'prohibited content', as distinct from cyberbullying content," a spokesperson told ZDNet.

"The powers that will be granted to the children's e-safety commissioner relate only to cyberbullying material targeted at an Australian child. This is a quite different matter to existing legal grounds for content to be removed (such as the grounds Twitter has referred to). Therefore, existing removal requests give no indication of the extent of cyberbullying cases."

Editorial standards